BBC: Children are ‘civilians’ when NATO’s holding the gun

In a report on the killing of 9 children by NATO forces in Afghanistan the BBC chooses not to provide details of the attack, highlights NATO’s apology for the deaths, seeks to deflect attention by highlighting killings carried out by the Taliban and refers to the children simply as ‘civilians’.

Not only does the BBC choose to describe the victims simply as ‘civilians’ in the headline, but the first paragraph also refers to ‘civilians’. It is only in the third paragraph that we learn what NATO are apologising for:

“Local officials say nine boys, aged 12 and under, were killed while gathering firewood, according to AP news agency.”

But even here, the deaths are claims assigned to unnamed officials, relayed by a news agency. There are no links to other reports offering further information on the attack. Few details of the circumstances, no names of those killed and no response from members of their community. It is the apology, not the deaths, that is the story.

The BBC euphemistically refers to the killing as an ‘incident’, and, it seems, given the remainder of the report, the deaths are simply incidental to the greater aims of the war:

“Gen Petraeus said he had ordered all helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the need to keep civilian casualties “to the absolute minimum”…”

It’s almost as if Petraeus is using the opportunity to apologise in advance for future killings in order to dispense with the rigmarole of formal apologies and the (very limited) bad press that comes with that.

Despite the fact this report deals with the killing of 9 children by NATO forces, the BBC’s rules of ‘impartiality’ requires it to note that NATO comes only second in terms of killing civilians in Afghanistan:

“Afghanistan Rights Monitor said the Taliban were responsible for about 60% of the 2,400 civilians killed, while US-led forces were accountable for 21%.”

A fact the BBC’s Jill McGivering felt the need to reiterate in a follow-up report:

“Washington is well aware of the strength of feeling and has worked hard to reduce casualties, she adds, though Nato says most civilian casualties last year were caused by Taliban insurgents, not the security forces.”

And again in this follow-up report ‘children’ are ‘civilians’.

On the other hand, there are many examples on the BBC News site where children’s deaths are deemed worthy of foregrounding, generally though, those deaths are caused by designated enemies:

Thanks to @colettebrowne for spotting this.

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